Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

A first of its kind study in BC highlights how our safety net fails tens of thousands of the province’s most vulnerable people.

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BC’s prison system has become a health and addiction system of last resort, according to a new study from SFU, which showed that three quarters of people who were admitted to BC prisons in 2017 suffered from addiction or mental health problems – up from 61 percent. 2009.


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Complex care cases – people with a combination of addiction and mental needs – more than doubled in the same period, from 15 to 32 percent. That is about 10 times the national average, estimated at between two and four percent.

“This is a multi-system error that we are seeing,” said Amanda Butler, lead author of the study. “I think many of these people have been let down by all other service systems before coming into contact with the criminal justice system.”

The study analyzed the health assessment files for each person admitted to a BC prison between 2009 and 2017. It is the first nationwide study of BC prisoners attempting to single out the complex interactions between addition and mental health.


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Jonny Morris, executive director of the BC branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the numbers were “consistent” with general assessments from people working in the field.

“It’s a guide to where we may need to strengthen the health response,” he said. “Something’s breaking.”

According to Butler, the current health and social services in BC are not designed to deal with people experiencing both drug use and mental health issues.

“We have improved some services for people who have mental illness or people who have a substance abuse disorder,” she said, “but we are not doing so well for the people who have both.”

“Sometimes having a mental illness is actually an exclusion criterion for being admitted to treatment programs,” she said.


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In a statement, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction acknowledged that the current support did not meet the needs of BC’s “most vulnerable people”, who “need a level of support that goes beyond what the current model of supportive housing can provide. . “

The ministry noted the opening of the Red Fish Healing Center in October 2021, “a new, first of its kind and innovative 105-bed healing center” that supports people with complex mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Proponents say the new beds are good news, but they come far below the number of people with concomitant ailments who need treatment, are often homeless and end up rotating through the criminal justice system.

“There’s a growing sense that people are not able to get the right care at the right time,” Morris said.


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“There is often a barrier of ‘well, first find out your addiction to drugs and then we will treat your mental health condition,'” he said, adding, “we need to respond more to health.”

Butler agreed.

“If we actually want to give people a chance to get better, we need a therapeutic approach,” she said. “The goal really should be to keep people out of jail in the first place.”

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